Laureates Dr. Maximilian U. Friedrich and Dr. Christine Maria Poch

Dr med. Maximilian U. Friedrich


What do sound engineering, civilian service and a research stay in New York City have in common? They have all driven the career of Dr Maximilian U. Friedrich. The young neurologist is currently working as a clinician-scientist in Neurology and post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School. There, he is researching the brain circuits that play a key role in balance disorders, which are very common in neurological diseases such as stroke, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. He is particularly keen on gaining a better understanding of the vestibular system as a basis for the development of innovative therapeutic approaches for neurological diseases. For this research approach, he is receiving the 2024 Jung Career Advancement Award for Medical Research from the Hamburg-based Jung Foundation for Science and Research. The prize will support his scientific work on neuronal vestibular processing over the next three years with a total of €210,000, which Maximilian U. Friedrich is free to use as he sees fit.

The sense of balance enables humans to adapt to gravity, one of the fundamental laws of nature. This sense is controlled by the vestibular organ in the inner ear, which consists of three arch ducts and two otolithic organs. This organ records the movements of the head and body in all spatial directions. Signals from this system as well as visual stimuli are transmitted to the brain and constantly give us information about where and how we are in a space. Accordingly, disturbances in the sense of balance can drastically reduce our quality of life and even lead to an inability to work or, in the long term, to depression and anxiety. These facts are well known, however, there are no effective therapies to date. One of the winners of this year’s Jung Career Advancement Award is addressing this with his project – Dr Maximilian U. Friedrich is researching the ‘Brain in Balance: Translational Neuroanatomy and Connectome-Based Network Analysis of the Vestibular System’.

Previously, Maximilian Friedrich has investigated, amongst other things, how and where signals concerning the sense of balance are processed further. The starting point was stroke-related injuries and electrical stimulation in the brain that impair the perception of balance. He also succeeded in developing a system based on artificial intelligence that can be used to analyse eye movement disorders that are characteristic of balance disorders, using conventional smartphones. The results are comparable to those of previous, costly special methods, with the result that the findings obtained by him could play a role in medical examinations directly at the patient’s bedside in the future. The Jung Career Advancement Award now enables him to build on his previous research and further investigate the vestibular system in detail over the next three years. One of the aims of his planned work is to integrate state-of-the-art, high-resolution imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with detailed anatomy slices in order to create an atlas of the neuronal vestibular network. This atlas is intended to help with the better understanding of stroke-related damage to vestibular networks. He is free to use the €210,000 that come with the Jung Career Advancement Award over a period of three years to achieve these goals.

In addition to Dr Maximilian U. Friedrich, this year’s Jung Career Advancement Award is also going to cardiologist Dr Christine Maria Poch, who studies the human heart using model systems at the Clinic and Polyclinic for Internal Medicine I of the Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University of Munich. Both will receive the full amount of funding.

A detour to the destination – the career trajectory of Dr Maximilian U. Friedrich

Maximilian U. Friedrich almost never ended up in medicine or science, as he originally planned to study German, philosophy and classical languages. However, before he could even start, he was called for civilian service. He decided to work as a nurse in a hospital – and set a completely new course for his professional life. ‘I just felt at home straight away. Because I often work in neuropsychiatry, I can still pursue my fascination with the “science of the mind” – only now from a different perspective,’ he says, summarising his decision. People could have seen earlier that his professional career would head in this direction, though: ‘In my youth, I was a hobby sound engineer. That naturally also meant I dealt with circuitry and signal processing – topics that are part of my job today.’

After starting his medical studies in Würzburg, it quickly became clear that he was particularly enthusiastic about neuropsychiatry subjects. His final decision for this specialist field was made as part of his subsequent rotation in neurology during his practical year, after being inspired by the artistry of his mentor. ‘He was able to solve the most complex neurological puzzles directly at the patient’s bedside, based only on a nuanced examination of eye movements and balance and almost without using any devices,’ explains Maximilian U. Friedrich. ‘This was the spark for what later became my speciality – disorders of balance, eye movements and motor skills.’

2024 Jung Career Advancement Award for fundamental research in neurology

Maximilian U. Friedrich has maintained his love of music to this day. ‘I really like German hip hop. And when I’m not busy with brain circuits, I’m a DJ using electric circuits to create music.’ On top of that, endurance sports and outdoor adventures provide the perfect counterbalance to the stress of his everyday life. After all, this path is not easy for him. In keeping with his life motto of ‘per aspera ad astra’, he has achieved success with a great deal of initiative, authenticity, down-to-earthness and commitment – and is therefore all the more grateful for the support that the Jung Foundation is now giving him by awarding the Jung Career Advancement Award. ‘Starting on a career path as a clinician scientist is always difficult and depends heavily on external factors such as ideological and financial support,’ says Maximilian U. Friedrich, summing up the current situation, ‘Over the past few years, in addition to my clinical work, I have put my heart and soul into developing my scientific programme, setting up an integrated outpatient clinic for patients with complex balance disorders and gaining outstanding mentors – and I have also had to overcome resistance and setbacks. That’s why I can’t exaggerate the significance of this award from the Jung Foundation.’ He particularly appreciates the independence it brings: ‘The funding allows me to set up my own working group and thus realise my comprehensive clinical and scientific programme. I’m incredibly grateful for that.’

Dr med. Christine Maria Poch


She is passionate about research – especially cardiology. With the development of innovative three-dimensional cell models based on 3D printing technology, Dr Christine Maria Poch simulates the complexity and functionality of the heart. In doing so, she not only creates valuable platforms for research into heart disease, but also the basis for new forms of therapy. She is currently working as a specialist in cardiology and clinical researcher at the Clinic and Polyclinic for Internal Medicine I at the Klinikum rechts der Isar of the Technical University of Munich. In recognition of her promising scientific studies in the field of cardiology, she is receiving the Jung Career Advancement Award for Medical Research 2024 from the Hamburg-based Jung Foundation for Science and Research. The award will support her research over the next three years with a total of €210,000, which Christine Maria Poch can use freely to continue her work.

3D models are booming: 3D-printed models are used in many ways in industry, architecture and art – and also in the production of technical medical devices and prostheses. Today, this method can also already be used to replicate human organs, which represents an enormous step towards even better treatment of diseases. Yet can these 3D models also help to explore new ways of regenerating a heart after a heart attack? This year’s laureate, Dr Christine Maria Poch, is addressing precisely this question with her new project, ‘Research into Cardiac Regeneration through Human Ventricular Progenitor Cells’. With a focus on 3D culture and tissue engineering, she uses human pluripotent stem cells (hPSC) to understand the complex changes in heart disease and develop new therapeutic options.

In the past, Christine Maria Poch has achieved success by developing 3D models that uncover specific disease phenotypes which remain hidden in traditional 2D cultures. Her work has identified key defects in the development of hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) – a life-threatening disease that can lead to death in the first few months of life. By cultivating native heart muscle tissue in 3D as true to life as possible in the lab, Poch was also able to investigate Duchenne muscular dystrophy and its effects on the heart in more detail and assess the effects of novel gene therapies using gene scissors. This disease usually manifests itself in childhood and quickly leads to muscle weakness and a reduced quality of life in a wheelchair.

In her next project, the Munich-based junior researcher now plans to use an innovative 3D myocardial scar model to further investigate the regenerative potential of human ventricular progenitor (HVP) cells and to study and optimise the cell-mediated cardiac regeneration process in real time and at the individual cell level. Ventricular progenitor cells have been shown to be very promising. The young researcher hopes to be able to produce optimised cell products for improved cardiac regeneration, and it is precisely this project that the Jung Foundation is supporting over the next three years. During this period, Christine Maria Poch will be able to freely use the €210,000 that comes with the Young Career Award for her exciting research project.

In addition to Dr Christine Maria Poch, this year’s Jung Career Advancement Award is also going to neurologist Dr Maximilian U. Friedrich, who is working at the Center for Brain Circuit Therapeutics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School on the creation of an atlas of the neurological vestibular network. Both researchers will receive the full amount of funding.

A heart for patients – the career trajectory of Dr Christine Maria Poch

‘I gained my initial laboratory experience as a university student and was fascinated by stem cell technology, especially the possibility of differentiating cells into heart cells in vitro and seeing them beat in the Petri dish.’ When Christine Maria Poch talks about her research, you can feel the enthusiasm behind her every word. This first contact with cardiology developed further as she continued her studies and career, and her passion was awakened. ‘I am particularly fascinated by the ability to dynamically follow the behaviour of ventricular progenitor cells at a single-cell level. It is extremely exciting to be able to observe live how these cells recognise damaged areas in the heart muscle, migrate to them in a targeted manner and differentiate into functional heart cells,’ she says, explaining her fascination with the field and her research.

Born in Austria, she first studied pharmacy before switching to human medicine after just one year. From there, she made progress determinedly. She first completed her studies at Paracelsus Medical University in Austria in 2016 and then completed a doctorate at the Technical University of Munich in 2022. She graduated from both degrees summa cum laude and was recognised as a specialist in cardiology in May 2023. Her next step was specialist training for internal medicine. However, what drives her is not only scientific curiosity, but also, above all, the hope that the results of her research will alleviate someone’s suffering: ‘Despite the many possibilities offered by conventional cardiology treatments, they are in some patients not enough to compensate for the human heart’s lack of regeneration potential. I am therefore convinced that research into cardiac stem cells can open new avenues in the treatment of heart disease.’

Jung Career Advancement Award 2024 for an innovative project in cardiology

Even though the award opens new doors for her professionally, Christine Maria Poch prefers to spend her free time away from home, namely, exercising in the great outdoors. ‘Fortunately, Munich is not far from the mountains, so I’m usually out and about there on my days off.’ It doesn’t matter whether summer or winter – skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, hiking or jogging, – for her, the most important thing is to be out in the fresh air and enjoy the mountain panorama. Christine Maria Poch’s perseverance and inquisitiveness – as well as her ability to make friends and go about life empathetically – brought her to the position of the Jung Foundation for Science and Research honouring her with the Jung Career Advancement Award. ‘This award encourages me to continue my journey as a clinician scientist in research. It’s a great opportunity that can open up new opportunities for me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to advance my career,’ she says, summing up the significance of the award for her future steps.